2011 Grower Of The Year Nominees
Bob’s Market & Greenhouses
Selected as an Operation of the Year finalist for the second consecutive year, Bob’s Market and Greenhouses in Mason, W.Va., is well known for producing some of the highest quality plugs in its region. In fact, Bob’s is among the top 10 plug and liner producers in the United States despite just 15 years of focus in that area.
Robert Barnitz and his wife, Corena, established Bob’s Market more than 40 years ago. All five of their sons chose greenhouse floriculture as their career paths, and all five have a stake in the business as owners.
Customer service is at the core of Bob’s Market, and Robert is especially proud of the fact Bob’s has never lost a customer due to poor product quality, delivery or a lack of business integrity. Building longstanding, personal relationships with customers that outlast Bob’s business relationships has always been a key to success, and being good stewards with the beautification of local communities is a role the Barnitz family regularly takes on.
As a young company in the young plant business, James Greenhouses in Colbert, Ga., has quickly become a well-respected young plant producer under the leadership of owners Ken and Leah James. Since the business was founded,
James Greenhouses has achieved 13 consecutive years of double-digit sales growth. It has grown from a staff of just Ken and Leah to one of 38 people. It’s also evolved into a business that produces 10 million-plus cuttings and tissue culture liners every year.
While James Greenhouses isn’t a mega grower in size, Ken and Leah have embraced many of the systems and equipment big growers have, including computerized environmental controls, programmable mist and irrigation booms and an automated plant-trimming machine. James Greenhouses has also made investments in flat fillers and rolling benches.
Growth is in Ken’s and Leah’s future plans. And they’ll pursue that growth by continuing to develop sales through the broker network while keeping in touch with the local growers they serve directly.
Emerald Coast Growers
Emerald Coast Growers is a close-knit family business with industry roots dating back to the late 19th century. Four siblings – Paul, Mark, Cheri and Bonnie – represent the fourth generation of horticulturists, and all four are owners in the business that’s helped make ornamental grasses more mainstream.
Emerald Coast operates more than 400,000 square feet of heated greenhouses between Florida and Pennsylvania, as well as 55 acres of outdoor growing space in Florida. The business is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year as one of the industry’s largest suppliers of grass liners and a leader in perennial liners.
Emerald Coast’s use of digital technology makes it a great example of a modern greenhouse business, as well. Daily availability updates are sent to customers via eMail and the Web, and breaking news eMails announce product updates and other hot items customers should know about.
Based in Salinas, Calif., Rocket Farms is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year as one of the fastest-growing greenhouse operations in the country. Ranked sixth on Greenhouse Grower’s Top 100 Growers list with 5.5 million square feet, Rocket Farms has flourished over these last few difficult years because of a commitment to quality, innovation and sustainability.
More than 70 percent of the operation’s orchids are double spiked, and Rocket Farms is pushing hard toward triple spikes as the new standard. The business is regularly engaging consumers with its bread-and-butter product, as well. For example, Rocket Farms held a consumer competition to name one of its orchid varieties, with the winner receiving one of the orchids named.
The operation is also a leader in its community, having recently been recognized by the Monterey County Business Council for its contribution to the local economy and demonstrating leadership in the ag community.
Marc Verdel, Battlefield Farms
A two-time finalist for Head Grower of the Year, Marc Verdel knew long before he became head grower at Battlefield Farms that he one day wanted to lead an organization’s horticulture department. He joined Battlefield Farms 20 years ago as an assistant head grower, and he developed into the head grower position under the tutelage of Jerry Van Hoven.
Among the career achievements Verdel is most proud of are reducing crop times, improving Battlefield’s perennial and annual liner programs and reducing the footprint of Battlefield’s aquatics program to just a few acres while maintaining strong sales numbers.
“I have known Marc for more than 10 years, and it has been fun to watch his knowledge and value to a business and family become an integral part of the operation,” says Glenn Wilson, Ball Horticultural Co. “When I think of Battlefield, I always think of Marc as one of Jerry’s family – just without the same last name.”
Mike Friddle, Speedling
Mike Friddle began his career at Speedling in 1992 with a focus on vegetable plug production, but he quickly realized ornamentals was the area in which he could truly excel. After a five-year stint at Suncoast Greenhouses, Friddle brought his knowledge back to Speedling in 1999 – and he’s been there ever since.
With an education in agricultural meteorology, Friddle regularly taps into his experiences to create microclimates for various groups of cultivars so he can maximize productivity and quality in plug production. He has also been instrumental in the implementation of Speedling’s new MAS ERP system that accounts for every last tray and pot.
“Mike even took it upon himself to learn Spanish so he could better communicate directly with those who help him produce his quality crops,” says Mark Worley, Speedling’s East Coast division manager.
With more than 5,000 SKUs, Friddle certainly has his hands full in Sun City, Fla. But he finds a way to manage while also serving as a voice when Speedling’s customers have questions regarding production.
Ashley Smith, Bell Nursery
With more than 40 years experience in the greenhouse, Bell Nursery’s Ashley Smith has done just about every task a grower can do. From picking and spacing flowers and recovering poly to babysitting boilers on cold winter nights and hopping in a semi truck to deliver dormant hydrangeas to Florida, Smith has always showed a willingness to be a team player.
He has been on the cutting edge of chemicals and their applications, as well, working closely with chemical suppliers to develop best practices. Smith has also embraced technology, having gained experience with open-roof greenhouses, poly houses, glass houses, floor heat, steam heat, forced air heat and an assortment of environmental control systems.
“Ashley has always treated the business as if he owned it himself. As an employer, you can only hope to get that from employees,” says Bryan Ulery, whose business, Ulery Greenhouse Company, was sold to Bell Nursery in 2007. “When you do get that kind of dedication, you know you are blessed.”
Smith, 55, first showed that kind of dedication in 1969 in Springfield, Ohio, where he spent the summer working for the Ulery family. Over the years, he’s worked with three generations of Ulerys and grown virtually everything that flowers in a container.
Chad Earles, Nash Greenhouse
Chad Earles became a head grower because he wanted to revolutionize the way crops are grown. And the only way to change production, Earles thought, was to become the guy in charge.
Earles is now one of the growers in charge at Nash Greenhouse, which he’s served since 2003 when the father-and-son team of Howard and Mark Nash purchased the operation formerly known as Dick’s Greenhouse in Kalamazoo, Mich.
”Chad has embraced the challenge of additional facilities we own and has always shown a desire to exceed expectations,” says Ric Stevens, Nash Greenhouse’s director of sales and marketing. “He’s a team player who makes my job in sales invigorating.”
Earles, 35, is a grower who embraces technology and one who’s helped Nash Greenhouse elevate its status in the grower-heavy Kalamazoo area. He’s also never afraid to offer an idea to improve the production process. As Stevens puts it: “Chad always asks the question and reacts when needed before there’s an issue at hand.”